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Coffee That Isn't Bitter: 4 Things to Avoid for a Smooth Cup

How do I make a smooth cup of coffee?

At this point, we can all agree that your morning cup of coffee sets the mood for the rest of your day. How many times have you woken up a little more tired than usual, ready enough for your cup of coffee that you dove right into the largest size you could order on the drive-thru menu? How many times has it come out exactly how you wanted it to vs. ruining your morning entirely? Let's take a walk on the wild side, and let the secrets pour out of your Chemex on how to get the smoothest cup, every damn time, without relying on the drive-thru.

For those trying to switch to black coffee, let's make the transition even smoother.

One thing you'll often hear from someone looking to switch to black coffee is, "I want coffee that isn't bitter". Hearing that, most will completely rule out any dark or strong coffee, although the two actually have little to do with each other. The majority of the bitterness of a coffee is created a the time of brew, so things like roast shade, origin, or caffeine strength have little to do with how smooth or how bitter your coffee is.

Over-extraction makes coffee bitter.

The more control that you can have over the brewing method, the more likely you are to control extraction. Certain brewing methods leave little or no room for preference and are often optimized more for convenience (Keurig machines, automatic drip machines, etc). These methods will leave you with a cup that is sometimes less than ideal (including a bitter cup). To best remedy a bitter cup, use brewing methods that will allow you to change the factors that determine whether or not your coffee is bitter (such as a Chemex). 

Here are a few factors to keep in mind when adjusting extraction:

1. Grind Size

A grind that is too fine for a particular brewer may over extract.  

A lot of people tend to think that a finer grind = a stronger cup, but because the brewer/filter is not meant to handle so much surface area, the result is over-extraction. 

Coffee should be ground with a quality burr grinder to reduce fines (pieces of coffee that are comparably much too small). The more consistent and correct the grind, the less bitter the cup will be. 

2. Water Temperature 

Coffee should not be boiling hot when it hits the coffee.

You don't want to cook your coffee! The taste of burnt anything is bitter, especially that of the hypersensitive coffee bean. Keep coffee 200-205 F for best results. 

Don't have a thermometer? Boil a kettle and use the water about 30 seconds off the boil.

3. Extraction Time

For most brewers, extraction should be kept at about four or five minutes.

Anything greater than the recommended extraction time may yield a cup with beans that have been overused. It holds the same concept as using the same tea bag over multiple cups of tea- it will eventually impart unwanted flavors. 

Important to note: If you follow these instructions, the resulting cup will not be bitter. If you push them to the extreme, you will alternately end up with a cup that's too sour and under-extracted. Find a great medium and always record your brews so you can recreate the perfect cup.